Women make up a small, but rapidly growing segment of the overall prisoner population. Aboriginal women in particular account for 35% of Australia’s female prison population, with over half incarcerated for violent offences in 2014. Violent women offenders pose a significant challenge to custodial authorities, serving shorter sentences than violent men but possessing more complex physical and mental health needs. Violence prevention programs designed specifically for women are scarce. A successful violence prevention program would create substantial health and social benefits for the women, their families and the wider community and assist in reducing incarceration of this population.
This study employs an Australian first multi-component intervention that not only aims to reduce recidivism, but also aims to enhance mental well-being and reduce substance use among women with histories of violence. There is a need for effective and evidence-based interventions among women with histories of violence as they are often excluded from community-based treatment programs. The study will trial an intervention with incarcerated women called Beyond Violence. The program has shown promise in international studies; our intervention will be modified for female prisoners in an Australian context. This will include ensuring it is culturally appropriate for Aboriginal women.
The study is designed to measure the effectiveness of a 10 week multi-component violence prevention intervention among female offenders with current and/or historical violent offences. A total of 414 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women will be recruited from four correctional centres in Western Australia and New South Wales. Half of the sample will act as a control group who may continue to participate in other programs offered within the prison. Post-release re-offending within 12 months will be the primary measure of the success of the intervention.
Recruitment has not yet commenced.
Incarceration is increasingly seen as an important public health opportunity to engage with hard-to-access groups, implement interventions and to connect those who traditionally do not access health services in the community with health providers. Costing around $85,000 per year to keep an adult in a medium-security prison, should the intervention prove to be successful in reducing re-incarceration, it would be highly cost-effective. Positive findings would have immediate translation implications for custodial authorities, prison health providers and community-based organisations that work with ex-offenders. For Aboriginal communities, the imprisonment of mothers impacts disproportionately on families and communities as they are the main carers of children in their communities.